Perhaps you’d like to see
a different version of me?
Maybe sweet and silly,
flirty and frilly,
strong and stable,
or adept and able?
Could I be fiercely faithful,
or lasciviously lewd?
Am I light as a butterfly
sarcastic and wry,
boisterous and bold,
or quiet and cold?
Which of these might serve me best
if I had to put them to the test?
But then again, who’s to say
that I can’t be all these things today?
I shared poetry with my daughter's fifth grade class this week. It was the first time I'd been inside the school in two years and I was joyfully anticipating the opportunity. That morning, I asked my daughter how she was feeling about me going into her class. “A little nervous,” she admitted. “I thought I'd be excited. I used to really like it when you came in to school...” she trailed off.
“Well,” I replied, “it’s been a long time. And you’re older now. You’re about the age I was when started getting embarrassed by pretty much everything my mom did!" My daughter laughed at my impression of myself at 11 years old.
I asked, "How about if I read some poems to you while you eat breakfast? That way you can approve them?” She thought that was a good idea. We decided that I would choose poems that highlighted the elements of poetry they were learning about—alliteration, personification, rhyme, meter, and meaning—and not any that were about her. "Maybe I can share one about your brother?" I asked with a wink. She laughed again.
In the classroom later that day, I talked about how poetry gave me a chance to express different feelings and emotions and the way writing had become a tool for me to make sense of my experience, including all the different sides of myself. I read "A Different Version of Me" and "The Trouble with Compassion" as examples (and also as illustrations of alliteration and personification, respectively.
I shared a one-sentence poem called, “Mystery” and asked the students why they thought it was a poem and not just a sentence. One student said it was because the words had a deeper meaning and lesson about life. Several students chimed in with their interpretations of the poem, including being open to possibility, risk taking, and whether or not lollipops can be universally considered awesome. We agreed to disagree on the last point.
I told my daughter and her classmates a story about the first and only poetry class I took in college, a small seminar on contemporary American poets. During each class, the professor would write a few lines of verse on the chalkboard and ask us what we thought the poet meant when they wrote the lines. One by one, we were expected to share our interpretation. One by one, we were told we were wrong. I decided that poetry was hard to understand and not for me.
I told the students that when I started writing poetry twenty years later, it came as a surprise to me. As I began sharing my poems with other people, I sometimes had the chance to hear their reflections on the poems. Often someone’s reflection was quite different from what I intended or experienced when I wrote it. I thought back to my college professor and realized that, once I shared a poem, it didn’t matter what I meant when I wrote the lines. What mattered was what it meant to the person reading or hearing it.
A student in the back chimed in to ask if I had any melancholy poems. “You bet I do!” I read a poem called “Lost” and we talked about all the various ways you can lose yourself, including a reference to Eminem and “losing yourself in the music.”
At the end of the session, a girl handed me an index card. “I made this for you. It’s everything you talked about today.”
I took in the vibrancy of the colors on the card. I noticed the girl or woman lying on the ground. Perhaps it was me or perhaps it was the girl who drew it. She appeared to be lost in a moment of blissful aliveness. A curved green line evoked the feeling of being embraced by the earth. I recognized images from some of the poems I shared, including the fire, a mysterious jellyfish, the caterpillar climbing up into a blue mushroom, musical notes floating into the atmosphere.
But my favorite part of the drawing is the key.
Poetry, I had told the students, is like a key that unlocks a secret place in the heart.
With love from my open heart to yours,